June 01, 2016

'The Book Of The Heretic' released twenty years ago

Two decades ago today, 'The Book Of The Heretic' was released, an album that is perhaps our most controversial record: our only concept album to date, marred by a bad sound and mix yet hailed by some as the best Countess album. Time for Orlok to take another trip down memory lane and recall how this record was created.

"After the recording of 'Ad Maiorem' I went back to writing and throughout 1995 I wrote quite a lot of songs and recorded them as demos. Then one day I got the idea for the story of the heretic in my head, so I got behind my computer and wrote the story down. I figured I could fit all the songs I had for the next album into this story, so I did. Because the story to connect the songs was written after the songs were written (which is a rather unusual way of writing a concept album, I realize that) the lyrics don’t really ‘tell’ the story very explicitly. The story of the heretic is actually quite a long one, which I wrote down in a very condensed way in only a handful of pages. If the story were written down more elaborately, like a novel, it might well comprise several books. The songs on the album all tell small parts of this long tale.

When the time came to record this album my first idea was to go back to 'The Nick' where Ad Maiorem was recorded but it turned out Nick Hall had moved and since I had no idea where he was now living I had to look for another studio. Hammerheart recommended 'Tercel' in Voerendaal where the second Bifrost album was recorded so I decided to give it a go. Opyros came over to witness the recordings and thanks to a larger budget we had five days this time. We went down to Voerendaal and met the engineer. He seemed like a nice guy, but though he had previous experience with somewhat similar music - he recorded the first Deinonychus album if I remember correctly - he didn't really seem to care. To make matters worse, proceedings were constantly interrupted by phone calls from the guy's kids.

We started with the drums of course, synchronizing trusty old 'Count Yamaha' to a computer where the engineer had some advanced software running so we would be able to do all the keyboards using a MIDI keyboard and thus save tracks as well as time. Because of the rhythm machine's limited memory we had to lay down a few tracks, then program 'Count Yamaha' again, then record again, etcetera. When we thought we had all the drum parts on tape it turned out the engineer hadn't thought of the fact there might be tempo changes in the songs so the computer had all the tempi wrong and we had to do it all over again. In the end all we had done in the first day were the drums and the bass on only a couple of tracks. In the end, it took two more days to do the rest of the bass parts (using my Aria Pro II, plugged straight into the mixing desk) and all the rhythm guitar parts (using my Ibanez RX350-BK, plugged straight into the mixing desk as well, through a Boss HM-3 distortion and some advanced effects processor). I did the rhythm parts three times in an attempt to get a really full sound.
The fourth day we did all the keyboards which left the fifth day for guitar leads, vocals and mix. The guitar leads were improvised as usual and the vocals went smoothly as always, but then we still had to do all the mixing which proved to be a lot of work, we are talking about some 65 minutes of music here after all! The mix went surprisingly quick and everything sounded pretty good in the studio so Opyros and I left the studio satisfied. We grabbed some Italian food somewhere in the area and then went on to see a Bifrost gig.

The iconic album cover

As good as this album had sounded in the studio over really expensive studio speakers, it sounded really bad when I played it at home on a normal stereo. So I called the studio a few weeks later to see if we could do a remix, but they had already re-used the tapes so doing a remix wasn’t possible. It’s ironic that this album is probably the worst-sounding Countess album, since it is the one that was by far the most expensive to record. I think it was almost twice as expensive as 'Ad Maiorem', an album that sounds far better. Before the release, we added 'De Gift Der Goden' as a bonus track. This song was recorded in 1995, live on four tracks and it sounds a lot better than the expensive digital 16-track recordings.

The new version of 'Chapel Of Doom' released in 2014

There a probably several reasons why this album sounds as crappy as it does. The bass tone didn’t help; it was mainly inspired by the bass tone on the Hellhammer demo’s but looking back, I think that tone doesn’t fit the songs on this album too well. Nevertheless, with a better guitar tone and a better mix that would have been much less of a problem. The engineer really fucked up with the EQ’s. Everything just sounds way too thin. The problem was, I think, that the engineer just didn’t give a fuck. He just recorded everything, without putting any effort in it on his part, to say the least.

I have to admit I don't really like this album. Sure, there are some great songs on it but the sound utterly sucks. With a better sound and especially a better mix this could have been an amazing album. This is clearly illustrated by the new version of 'Chapel Of Doom' that we recorded for the 'Sermons Of The Infidel' compilation. This is how the album should have sounded."

'The Book Of The Heretic' is still available both digitally and physically from our Bandcamp store. It's also available on all major platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify:

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